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Consumer Reports Addresses Privacy and Security Concerns in the Digital Age

Hey, many of you have probably heard of Consumer Reports, the world’s largest independent nonprofit consumer org. They're doing really good work, and just announced the launch of an ambitious, collaborative effort that'll really make an impact on the digital marketplace in a way that puts consumers’ data security and privacy needs at the forefront.

This means the creation of a digital privacy and security standard for consumers. The goal's to help guide companies in the design of mobile and Internet-connected products and services, such as smart appliances, mobile apps, and software. This standard will help ensure that consumers’ security and privacy are consistently safeguarded as an ever-increasing number of connected devices are introduced into the marketplace.

CR[Illustration by Oliver Munday]

You can access the first version of the standard here. The standard's being developed in partnership with leading privacy, security, and consumer rights organizations, including Disconnect, Ranking Digital Rights, and the Cyber Independent Testing Lab.

This effort's being funded by the Ford Foundation, the Craig Newmark Foundation, and the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund. As a member of Consumer Report’s Board of Directors, I'm fully supportive of this initiative. My take is that we need to address the privacy and security challenges facing consumers in the digital age. Most Americans -- 96% of people polled, in fact -- have serious doubts that their social networks will protect their privacy.

Marta L. Tellado, President and CEO of Consumer Reports, said,

"...While the pace of new technologies is exciting and brings greater convenience to our lives, it also carries with it new threats to our security and personal privacy. Together with our partners, we’re embarking on this ambitious journey to ensure that consumers remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to the safety and security of their personal data."

What will the standard actually do?

  • Identify and address potential risks in the data security and privacy of digitally-connected products.
  • Encourage the design and production of safer products for consumers.
  • Enable Consumer Reports and other testing organizations to test, evaluate, and report on whether products protect consumer security and privacy.
  • Empower consumers to make smarter choices about the products they buy.
  • Protect personal information obtained by products, apps, and services after they are purchased. For example, Consumer Reports exposed significant privacy risks in the popular pregnancy and fertility app Glow, in which users’ personal health information was easily accessed by individuals with basic hacking skills. Glow fixed the potentially dangerous lapses in security after Consumer Reports testing revealed the problem.

This standard is designed to aggressively address compromises to online privacy and security and push for better and more effective protections in the marketplace.

Americans want businesses to be held to tougher standards when it comes to protecting their personal data, and the new Consumer Reports standard is about doing just that.

The new initiative is working to address growing concerns about the vulnerability of products and services in the age of the Internet of Things. These concerns are valid, and fueled by the numerous news reports of enormous lapses, such as Yahoo’s disclosure that 1 billion user accounts were hacked, and Chrysler’s recall of 1.4 million vehicles that could be remotely hacked online; and those hacks are just the tip of the iceberg.

What are your biggest concerns about online privacy and security?

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